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Australian Indigenous Language Learner’s Guides for Revitalisation: Language Acquisition and Materials Evaluation Yu-Ting Chiang Submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Applied Linguistics School of Languages and Linguistics University of Melbourne June 2019

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Microsoft Word - MTwhole v6electronic_17jun19.docxLanguage Acquisition and Materials Evaluation
Yu-Ting Chiang
Master of Applied Linguistics
University of Melbourne
Language Acquisition and Materials Evaluation
Yu-Ting Chiang
Given that many Australian Indigenous communities have undergone language loss and
wish to (re)learn their heritage language, and that existing learner’s guides for these
languages written by linguists are limited in their pedagogical capacities, this study is set
out to investigate the current state and possible improvement of learner’s guides in
response to Penfield and Tucker’s (2011) call for applied linguists with an expertise in
language acquisition to step into this area. Specifically, this present study first adopts the
learner-centred second language acquisition (SLA) stance and interviews four community-
based language workers to identify the learning goals and needs of Indigenous
communities. The study also evaluates nine existing learner’s guides published over the
past four decades with Tomlinson’s (2010, 2011, 2016) principles proposed for SLA
materials development as the fundamental framework. Findings suggest that one of the
major learning goals of Indigenous communities be communicative competence, which
matches with Tomlinson’s (2016) emphasis. Additionally, comprehensibility is the most
salient issue of learner’s guides at present. To compare the insights of the interviewees in
this study and the results of the learner’s guides evaluation, it is found that the SLA
frameworks adopted in this study can indeed inform future development of learner’s
guides for Australian Indigenous languages, but the application requires modifications in
order to achieve cultural appropriateness, especially considering the colonial history of
Australia. Beyond learner’s guides per se, the governing principle of future learner’s
guides development is to have community consultation, involvement, and ideally,
initiation. Positioned as an initial attempt to bridge language revitalisation and SLA, this
study provides novel perspectives to both fields, introducing a theoretically and practically
informed approach to develop pedagogical materials for Indigenous languages and an
insight into a less studied audience in SLA research.
I hereby declare that this minor thesis contains only my original work, except for the
references that have been appropriately acknowledged. This thesis does not contain any of
my work that has been presented at conferences or appeared in previous publications.
The length of this thesis, exclusive of tables, references and appendices, is approximately
13,000 words.
I am deeply indebted to my supervisors Professor Rachel Nordlinger and Dr Helen Zhao
for their continued support and invaluable insights. Rachel led me into the world of
Australian Indigenous languages, and Helen infused new possibilities into my exploration
in this fascinating world. Without their guidance and encouragement, this thesis would not
have been possible.
I am grateful to Emma Murphy, Ebony Joachim, Amy Parncutt, Andrew Tanner, and
Freya Scott from the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity. It was my great honour
to have volunteered with them and witnessed the wonderful works they have been doing
with the Indigenous communities in Australia. I can never thank them enough for sharing
their knowledge and experience with me, along with laughter and cake! Special thanks go
to Professor Gillian Wigglesworth and Associate Professor Paul Gruba, who encouraged
and supported me to pursue the opportunity of working with these people.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Associate Professor Karen Steffen
Chung, Professor Jia-Ling Hsu, and Assistant Professor Shan-Shan Wang at my alma
mater National Taiwan University for opening the door to Linguistics for me and for
inspiring me in numerous ways. Every time I write, I feel especially thankful for Assistant
Professor Shan-Yun Huang and Ms Ann-Marie Hadzima, without whose solid teaching of
English academic writing I would not have been able to write so confidently.
My appreciation is sent to Yayuan Luo, Ikuna Yagi, Vina Darissurayya, Jaelani Jaelani,
and George Komori as well, who have been there from start to finish on this journey at the
University of Melbourne. I particularly owe a very important debt to Giovanni Ma for his
valuable feedback on my writing. I also treasure Yoichi Tagami’s “Let’s work harder
toady!” throughout the writing of our theses. I shall never forget to thank Jessie Liu, Erica
Gem Tayag, and Akshaya Kathiresh for making Melbourne feel like home.
Lastly, I must express my very profound gratitude to my parents, my two a-má’s, my
a-kong, my late maternal a-kong, and my partner Hao-Che Chien for their enormous
support and unending love.
2.1 From the perspective of community-based linguistics ............................................... 5
2.2 From language documentation to learning materials .................................................. 7
2.3 Summary ..................................................................................................................... 9
3.1 Learner-centred language acquisition ....................................................................... 10
3.2 Materials development and evaluation for English learning .................................... 12
3.3 Learning materials for Indigenous languages of the world ...................................... 14
3.4 Summary of gaps in the literature ............................................................................. 17
3.5 Research questions .................................................................................................... 18
Chapter 4: Methodology ..................................................................................................... 19
4.1 Materials evaluation .................................................................................................. 19
4.1.2 Analytical approach ........................................................................................... 22
4.1.3 Analytical procedures ........................................................................................ 25
4.2.4 Analytical approach ........................................................................................... 30
4.2.5 Ethical considerations ........................................................................................ 31
Chapter 5: Results ............................................................................................................... 32
5.1 Materials evaluation .................................................................................................. 32
5.1.1 Common characteristics of the evaluated learner’s guides ................................ 32
5.1.2 Observed tendency towards alignment with SLA frameworks ......................... 34
5.2 Interviews .................................................................................................................. 37
5.2.2 Issues with existing learner’s guides for users ................................................... 40
5.2.3 Suggestions of community language workers ................................................... 44
Chapter 7: Conclusion ......................................................................................................... 59
7.2 Recommendations for future learner’s guide development ...................................... 60
7.3 Implications ............................................................................................................... 61
References ........................................................................................................................... 63
Appendix A: Materials Evaluation of Existing Learner’s Guides ...................................... 72
Vászolyi (1979) ............................................................................................................... 72
Evans (1982) ................................................................................................................... 77
Goddard (1993) ............................................................................................................... 81
Nordlinger (1998) ........................................................................................................... 89
Turpin (2000) .................................................................................................................. 93
Simpson (2002) ............................................................................................................... 98
Green (2005) ................................................................................................................. 103
List of Tables
Table 1 List of evaluated learner’s guides (in chronological order) ................................... 20
Table 2 Coding scheme for evaluating learner’s guides ..................................................... 23
List of Figures
Figure 1. Yeh’s (2015, p. 85) flow chart for developing a Hla’alua learner’s guide. ......... 15
Chapter 1: Introduction
Since the first encounter with the European settlers in the 1780s, Australia has
experienced drastic language loss. Upon the earliest settlement, an estimated number of
250 distinct languages and 700–800 language varieties were spoken in Australia (Walsh,
1993; Koch & Nordlinger, 2014). Due to historical suppression of Australian Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander languages by the colonial government, and the continuous
promotion of English monolingualism into the recent decades (see e.g., McKay, 2008, for
the seven historical stages of language policy in Australia), at present, only 13 of the some
hundreds of Indigenous languages are still considered strong and steadily passed on to
younger generations (Marmion, Obata, & Troy, 2014, p. xii). The importance and
significance of preserving, maintaining and revitalising languages has recently gained
more public and governmental attention (Walsh, 2014). In the academic field of
linguistics, on the other hand, linguists have dedicated themselves to documenting
languages for decades in an effort to preserve the knowledge system and cultural heritage
embodied in the language.
In recent years, some attention has turned to revitalising languages that are no longer
spoken. In the context of language revitalisation, the development of language learning
materials is a crucial step for communities to (re)learn their language. Currently, a number
of learner’s guides to Australian Indigenous languages are available, credited to linguists’
good intentions to contribute to communities’ needs. Learner’s guides are essentially a
type of pedagogical grammar that involves both grammar description of the target
language and the goal to transmit metalinguistic knowledge to learners (Yeh, 2015).
However, among existing learner’s guides, several issues are of interest from an applied
linguistic perspective. For example, while compiling a learner’s guide, chances are
linguists refer to their specialised linguistics knowledge to explain language (e.g., de
Reuse, 1997; Warner, Geary, & Butler, 2018; see also Stebbins, Eira, & Couzens, 2018).
There would thus be an issue as to whether the materials are easily accessible for learners
without formal linguistics training, especially in terms of comprehension of disciplinary
terminology (see Czaywoska-Higgins, 2009; Rice, 2006). After all, as a pedagogical
device, a learner’s guide ought to be able to fulfil its purpose of effectively facilitating
users’ learning. This very position, according to Penfield and Tucker (2011), is where
applied linguists and their expertise in language acquisition should step in to transfer
linguistic documentation into effective learning materials for community-wide language
revitalisation (see also Anderson, 2011).
According to language acquisition theory, the learners’ role is central to the learning
process (see Larsen-Freeman, 2011). This current mainstream stance in the field
emphasises the activeness and autonomy of the learners, as well as their needs and
purposes of learning. In order to develop learner-centred materials, applied linguists
suggest that meaningful, authentic materials be adopted, such as Tomlinson (2010, 2011,
2016). Yet, research on materials development for second language acquisition (SLA
hereafter) is largely rooted in English learning, and discussion of Indigenous languages in
the discipline of SLA is scarce. In the field of language documentation and revitalisation,
there is also a paucity of discussion on language learning materials (Penfield & Tucker,
2011). Having acknowledged this gap and given the importance of learner’s guides for
Australian Indigenous languages, the present study is set out to respond to Penfield and
Tucker’s (2011) call for more applied linguistic perspectives in endangered language
studies by investigating whether—and how—current materials can meet users’ learning
needs and goals. More specifically, since SLA theory has evidently insightful implications
for the learning of languages other than English, such as Japanese (e.g., Ohta, 2001), this
study aims to probe how theories and methods of developing and evaluating English as a
second language (ESL hereafter) materials can relate or be extended to Australian
Indigenous language learning materials.
Despite the potential applicability of SLA theory to developing learner’s guides,
certain risks of this approach cannot yet be overlooked, including the great contextual
differences between the learning of endangered languages and that of major languages
(Penfield & Tucker, 2011). In addition, particularly because of the colonial history of
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the writing of learner’s guides as
a linguistic practice should consciously work towards the goal of decolonisation (see
Stebbins et al., 2018). One of the means to decolonising is self-determination of
Indigenous communities, which is widely emphasised by community-based linguists, such
as Bischoff and Jany (2018). By working and consulting with Indigenous communities, as
well as community workers who have extensive experience in undertaking Indigenous
language revitalisation projects, a learner’s guide is essentially able to take learner’s needs
into account at the same time.
With the awareness of decolonisation, this study adopts a qualitative approach and
consists of two aspects of research: evaluation of existing learner’s guides and interviews
with community linguists who have firsthand experiences in using such materials. In the
next chapter, I review the historical background and current state of Australian Indigenous
language revitalisation, which is especially linked to the global context from the
perspective of community-based linguistics. In Chapter 3, I review current discussion on
ESL materials development and evaluation, along with language learning materials for
Indigenous languages of the world. The lack of linkage between these two areas is
identified, followed by the research questions I wish to investigate in this study. In
Chapter 4, the methodology is stated, including the coding scheme for materials evaluation
and the details of interviews. I then present the findings from the materials evaluation and
interviews in Chapter 5 and discuss them with regard to previous studies in Chapter 6,
suggesting improvements for future development in this area accordingly. In Chapter 7,
after summarising, I provide a list of recommendations for future learner’s guide
development, discuss the implications and limitations of this study, and propose directions
for future research.
2.1 From the perspective of community-based linguistics
To situate this study on language learning materials in the Australian Indigenous
context, first of all, it is important to acknowledge the relationship between language, land
and people in Indigenous Australia. For many of the Indigenous communities, language is
directly linked to land, with the link between language and people derived from their
connection to land (Koch & Nordlinger, 2014; Rumsey, 1993; Sutton, 1997). This concept
has its root in a belief that creator figures ‘planted’ different languages onto different areas
while travelling across the landscape. As Rumsey (1993) explains, taking the Jawoyn in
the Northern Territory for example, “Jawoyn people are Jawoyn not because they speak
Jawoyn, but because they are linked to places to which the Jawoyn language is also
linked” (p. 200). Based on this ideology, a language is owned by the people who are
linked to a particular area of land and inherited from generation to generation (Rumsey,
1993; Sutton, 1997). Since language bears such strong connection to history and ancestry,
being essentially a vehicle for culture, language is a very important part of identity for
many Indigenous people (see Simpson, Caffery, & McConvell, 2010; Walsh, 2014, 2018).
As Sharpe (1993) observes, for instance, Bundjalung people from New South Wales
showed strong desire to revitalise their traditional language in order to reconnect to their
heritage. Furthermore, the positive correlation between language revitalisation and well-
being has been established in a number of studies (e.g., Walsh, 2018). On the other hand,
in light of the Indigenous worldview, it may only make sense if the community of the
target language is included and/or consulted when any practice is to be done related to the
language. Community-based linguistics, emphasising close relationship with communities,
can thus be argued as a culturally appropriate approach and an ideal form of linguistic
practice dealing with Indigenous languages. Not only in Australia, this stance is now
widely shared across the globe in the field of linguistics (see Bischoff & Jany, 2018). For
example, from Rice’s (2018) observation in Canadian Indigenous communities, social
justice is a ground for community-based research. Community workers and linguists
strongly advocate that the 4R principles underlie community-based practice, including
“respect, relevance, responsibility, and reciprocity on the part of the participants” (Rice,
2018, p. 34). McCarty (2018) also overviews revitalisation works in numerous Indigenous
communities of the world, suggesting seven principles for practising community-based
language planning (pp. 30–31). A core message from the principles is that communities’
needs and values should be centred and prioritised in language works. This is not always
an easy task and can be challenging at times. For instance, Adley-SantaMaria (1997), a
Native American linguist, and de Reuse (1997), a non-Indigenous linguist, have already
pointed out the inevitability of compromising their respective ideology during their
collaboration on a Western Apache textbook. Particularly, as Rice (2006) later observes,
“the grammatical models that linguists are interested in are not necessarily appropriate
models for language teaching” (p. 148; see also Czaywoska-Higgins, 2009). Various other
issues may also emerge, such as the fact that the ‘difficult’ metalanguage or language
being taught in learning materials may discourage those without formal linguistics training
and familiarity with linguistic jargon (Rice, 2006; Stebbins et al., 2018). Such potential
issues indicate the importance of considering the communities’ needs when researchers
conduct any relevant linguistic practice.
In the Australian context, in addition to the traditional cultures, the historical and
political complexity cannot be overlooked, either. Different from some Indigenous
communities having undergone colonisation as well, such as the Mori of New Zealand,
the Australian government does not have treaty-making with local nations in history
(Hobson, 2018). This leads to continuing nuanced tensions between Indigenous and non-
Indigenous groups to date. Linguists thus emphasise the significance of decolonising
language research more than ever (e.g., Stebbins et al., 2018). ‘Decolonialism’ (termed as
‘decolonisation’ in the present study), as Leonard (2018) defines, from an emic
perspective as a citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, USA, “is a way of thinking and
acting that emphasizes the sovereignty, peoplehood, intellectual traditions, and cultural
values of groups that experience colonialism” (p. 56). Leonard’s (2018) definition
corresponds to the stance of Stebbins et al. (2018) “that language revitalisation is very
largely a reclamation of the right to knowledge—of a form of sovereignty, in the sense of
authority over one’s own business” (p. 49). In other words, to achieve the goal of
decolonisation, self-determination of Indigenous communities should be applied as a
framework for language research (Stebbins et al., 2018).
2.2 From language documentation to learning materials
The extent of language loss in Australia means that for many Indigenous languages,
there are no longer any fluent speakers. Such languages have come to be called ‘sleeping’
languages (Amery & Gale, 2008), and this language status poses adversities for
revitalisation works and language materials development. Under such circumstances
without first language speakers modelling the language, Amery and Gale (2008) suggest
that “the original source materials, in the absence of other information, [be] the ultimate
authority” (p. 343) that language workers refer to as authentic materials (see also Amery,
2018). This type of material can “give an insight into fluent discourse, in a way that is now
impossible to do with live speakers” (Sharpe, 1993, p. 80). However, it is not always so
straightforward since for many languages, there is a lack of documented materials (e.g.,
Amery, 2018; Amery & Buckskin, 2012). This relates to the oral tradition of Australian
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Only with the arrival of the Europeans
did languages start to be recorded in written form. Early documentation made by non-
Indigenous scholars was very scarce and unsystematic (Oates, 1990; Singer, 2018), and
early recordings were made usually “under poor [recording] conditions with background
noise” (Sharpe, 1993, p. 81). Indigenous people were not likely to record their language
heritage in the climate where the language was considered of less value due to legislative
suppression and English dominance (Oates, 1990, discussing two exceptions). It was not
until the 1970s that the awareness of language endangerment was raised globally, and that
documentation works on Indigenous languages started to grow substantially both in
quantity and quality in Australia (Singer, 2018).
Despite numerous obstacles discussed above, successful examples of language
revitalisation can still be found all over the world. For example, the formerly sleeping
Wampanoag spoken in south-eastern New England, USA, is now being taught to
community members of all ages (McCarty, 2018). As McCarty (2018) notes, the
revitalisation work was initiated by an individual, jessie little doe baird1, who began in
1992 to work with linguists and learn through historical documents (see also Penfield &
Tucker, 2011). In Adelaide, South Australia, Jack Buckskin exemplifies another success
with the Kaurna language (Amery & Buckskin, 2012). While Kaurna has embarked on its
revival journey since 1990 already with song writing and language courses (Amery, 2018),
Jack Buckskin represents a new generation of revitalising Kaurna. According to Amery
and Buckskin (2012), working through documented works and developing contemporary
materials are meaningful and useful steps to (re)learn the language. On the other hand, in
the case of Kaurna, the local language centre plays a significant role in the revitalisation
work (Amery & Buckskin, 2012). In fact, regional language centres in Australia are at a
unique position in language works (see Amery & Gale, 2008; Walsh, 2014). As “a key
1 jessie little doe baird spells her name without capitalisation (Lutz, 2007).
meeting point for academic linguists and Indigenous communities” (Singer, 2018, p. 268),
language centres are a safe and ideal place for non-Indigenous linguists and Indigenous
communities to conduct linguistic practice side by side.
2.3 Summary
In sum, because of the centrality of language to individual identity for Australian
Indigenous people, many individuals and communities hope to (re)learn and revitalise
their traditional language in order to reconnect to their heritage. Given language loss
resulting from the colonial history, without fluent speakers in communities, people may
need to start their (re)learning from documented materials. There is thus a need to develop
learning materials catering to these learners’ needs, especially when historical
documentation may not be easily accessible for community people due to the often-
sketchy conditions and scholarly nature. Both the current state of languages and the
colonial history are particular challenges for developing Australian Indigenous language
materials and applying SLA theory primarily built upon acquisition of English as a second
language. However challenging, inspired by the successful progress of several Indigenous
communities’ revitalisation works across the globe and in Australia in particular (see
Walsh, 2014), this present study contributes to the field of language revitalisation by
discussing learning materials, also known as learner’s guides, from an SLA perspective.
The next chapter will thus discuss language learning materials drawing from the literature
of materials evaluation, as well as from previous studies on materials developed for
Indigenous languages of the world.
3.1 Learner-centred language acquisition
Having acknowledged that fluent speakers are often not easily found in many
Australian Indigenous communities in the previous chapter, this study focuses on the
context where communities or individuals wish to (re)learn their languages chiefly through
learner’s guides. This setting, while similar to second language learning in the sense that
not much of target language input is available from the environment2, differs from second
language learning that usually takes place under instruction (see Yeh, 2015). Namely, the
(re)learning of an Indigenous language is assumed to be an uninstructed self-learning
setting outside of classrooms. Note that, in any case, the motivations, purposes and goals
of (re)learning an Indigenous language and those of learning a major language are
essentially different (Penfield & Tucker, 2011). For those who aim at an Indigenous
language, “learning the language is not the entire goal in itself, [but] it is a means to
cultural revitalization” (Warner et al., 2018, p. 221). Take Mutsun native to California,
USA, for example; learners’ goals vary from becoming a fluent speaker to having the
ability to recite a prayer in the language (Warner et al., 2018). The (re)learning is a way to
reconnect to one’s own traditional culture, community and identity. In comparison,
learners of, say, English, are often motivated for educational, vocational and recreational
purposes, and so on. Such learning goals are usually based on the need or want to be part
of a new speech community (e.g., Dörnyei & Ryan, 2015; Gardner & Lambert, 1972).
2 In the field of language acquisition, some researchers distinguish ‘second language’ from ‘foreign language,’ with the former being learned in the target speech community whereas the latter, outside of the target speech community. Therefore, foreign language learners do not have access to the target language via environmental input and usually rely on classroom instruction or various language materials. Such a distinction is not the focus of this present study; the rather generic term ‘second language’ is thus adopted.
In SLA research, learners’ motivations, needs, purposes and goals are all important
elements that cannot be ignored (e.g., Council of Europe, 2001). The currently shared
stance in the field of SLA emphasises that the learner’s role is positioned at the core of
language learning where they “are active through experimentation, problem-solving, and
dialoguing” (Larsen-Freeman, 2011, p. 162). In addition, language is widely regarded as a
social fact which goes beyond the structures and other linguistic features of language per
se (Larsen-Freeman & Freeman, 2008; Larsen-Freeman, 2011). Thus, the focus of SLA
research has shifted from being merely on linguistic competence (i.e., language per se) to
focusing more on communicative competence pertinent to a broader social context (i.e.,
language use). Proposed by Hymes (1972) to supplement Chomsky’s (1965) notion of
linguistic competence as static knowledge of language structure, ‘communicative
competence’ has been built upon over the decades. To inform SLA pedagogy, for
example, Celce-Murcia, Dörnyei, and Thurrell (1995) suggest five components
encompassed in the communicative construct, including:
• Discourse competence: the ability of selecting and arranging words, structures
and sentences into a cohesive text;
• Linguistic competence: the knowledge of lexical, phonological and grammatical
linguistic form and understanding others’ intention by recognising the utilised
linguistic form, i.e., pragmatic competence;
• Sociocultural competence: the knowledge of the appropriate ways to express
messages in a specific social and cultural context;
• Strategic competence: the knowledge of communication strategies and the
appropriate ways to use them
In short, communicative competence captures “the knowledge of when and how to say
what to whom” (Larsen-Freeman, 2011, p. 157). The Douglas Fir Group (2016) further
proposes a three-level framework to explain the multilayered nature of second language
learning, including the learner’s cognition at the micro level, the social context at the meso
level, and the macro level of “large-scale, society-wide ideological structures with
particular orientations toward language use and language learning” (p. 24). Namely,
within a certain culture, “people express themselves and interpret the expressions of
others” according to certain cultural values resulting from their shared “social space and
history” (Larsen-Freeman, 2011, p. 156).
3.2 Materials development and evaluation for English learning
With an aim to better match learning materials with SLA theory in general,
Tomlinson (2016) outlines five principles for materials development and evaluation, as
• Principle 1: That the learners are exposed to a rich, re-cycled, meaningful and
comprehensible input of language in use;
• Principle 2: That the learners are affectively engaged;
• Principle 3: That the learners are cognitively engaged;
• Principle 4: That the learners are sometimes helped to pay attention to form
whilst or after focusing on meaning;
• Principle 5: That the learners are given plentiful opportunities to use the language
for communication (pp. 20–23)
To situate Tomlinson’s (2016) principles in the Douglas Fir Group’s (2016) framework,
the five principles overall focus on the micro level and its correlation to the meso level by
establishing learners’ communicative competence. In Principle 1, Tomlinson (2016)
suggests that teachers provide a real-world text at the start of a lesson, such as a poem or a
story. Such materials provide ‘rich’ amount of language in use, as well as structural
repetitions in text composition, which can be ‘re-cycled’ by learners in a sense that they
are exposed to abundant models of contextualised language and can revisit them during
and after the lesson. This type of material is considered authentic and ‘meaningful,’ for it
reflects real-world language in use and culturally relevant topics that possibly resonate
with learners’ life experiences (see also Larsen-Freeman, 2011). Being meaningful further
relates to Principle 2, which is set on the basis that any emotion aroused “whilst learning
or experiencing the target language is a powerful facilitator of language acquisition”
(Tomlinson, 2016, p. 22). As for the ‘comprehensible’ feature of Principle 1, it has a
strong linkage to Principle 3 addressing learners’ cognitive capacities. Specifically,
learning materials should consist of “challenging but achievable tasks which require high-
level, critical and creative thinking” (Tomlinson, 2016, p. 22). Corresponding to this
principle, the Common European Framework for Reference for Languages also
recommends a staged design for language learning materials catering to learners of
different proficiency levels (Council of Europe, 2001; see also Tomlinson & Masuhara,
2017). On the other hand, with a focus on communicative competence, Principle 4
suggests that learners be first provided with meaning-based texts and to identify the
modelled structures on their own from the given contextualised language; meanwhile, or
afterwards depending on learners’ needs, the instructor or material guides their attention to
a target structure of study where necessary. With rich input, Principle 5 proposes that
learners should have plenty of practice to produce meaningful language in socialised and
contextualised interaction (see also Ohta, 2001).
Tomlinson’s (2016) principles and most SLA studies primarily focus on instructed
classroom learning settings. Yet, the five principles can in fact be considered universal for
both instructed and uninstructed learning. For example, the richness of authentic,
culturally relevant materials is already celebrated in Kane’s (1998) review on a ‘teach
yourself’ guide for Cantonese. The essence of the five principles has also been reiterated
in Tomlinson’s (2010, 2011) guidelines for self-access materials development3 (see also
Tomlinson & Masuhara, 2017). Additional features that Tomlinson (2010, 2011) proposes
for self-access materials are ‘open-ended’ and ‘text-driven.’ On the one hand, without
instruction, learners need even richer models available to correct their own performance.
These models should not be constrained to only one correct answer set but include a
variety of examples showing how native speakers or other learners may perform, namely,
‘open-ended’ answers (Tomlinson, 2010, 2011). On the other hand, Tomlinson (2010,
2011) highlights the role of texts in self-learning settings. It is recommended that authentic
texts be the start point and main source of learning, providing learners with “an experience
which engages them holistically (e.g., listening to a song) . . . and finally invit[ing] [them]
to return to the experience in order to focus on a specific linguistic or pragmatic feature of
[the texts]” (Tomlinson, 2010, p. 76). Apart from Tomlinson’s (2010, 2011) guidelines for
self-learning materials development, Kane (1998) also states that the content of self-
guided learning materials should be as ‘accessible’ and ‘practical’ for learners as possible.
In other words, the use of plain language is preferred considering comprehensibility, and
expressions reflecting real-world language use should be the learning target in terms of
practicality, unlike formal descriptive grammars addressed to linguists (Kane, 1998).
3.3 Learning materials for Indigenous languages of the world
SLA frameworks are largely built on research into English learning, as reviewed in
the previous section, while also having been extended to the learning of other modern
languages, such as Japanese (Ohta, 2001), Chinese (Chen, Wang, & Cai, 2010) and
3 Note that the materials Tomlinson (2010, 2011) discusses are specifically developed for self-access language learning centres in the USA, where learners either partially or fully self-direct their learning with access to extrinsic support, such as feedback from centre faculty and technological devices.
European languages (Council of Europe, 2001). The application of SLA theory to
developing learning materials for Indigenous languages of the world is very limited. A
notable exception is Yeh’s (2015) study where she draws from SLA theory to develop a
learner’s guide for Hla’alua, native to Taiwan. She proposes a flow chart for the early
stages of learner’s guides development (Figure 1), emphasising the investigation of users’
needs. Warner et al. (2018), on the other hand, acknowledge their lack of consultation
with SLA frameworks while designing pedagogical materials for Mutsun since the goal of
producing any materials was prioritised. Despite not having recruited experts in SLA
materials development, Warner et al. (2018) designed their second textbook according to
their own experiences with university textbooks for European languages (cf. their first
design resembles more a simplified descriptive grammar as they describe).
Figure 1. Yeh’s (2015, p. 85) flow chart for developing a Hla’alua learner’s guide.
While only a few researchers explicitly call for the adoption of SLA theories and
methods in materials development for Indigenous languages, such as Hermes, Bang and
Marin (2012, on Ojibwe native to northern America) and Penfield and Tucker (2011),
many other studies on Indigenous materials have in fact touched on topics discussed by
SLA researchers. For example, the significance of learners’ needs is raised by Adley-
SantaMaria (1997) working on Western Apache. Only when the audience and their needs
are identified can developers have clear directions in what to include in and how to
construct learning materials. Where applicable, a needs assessment can be informative
prior to materials design (Malone, 2003, on a Yup’ik maintenance program in USA). In
addition, materials should be both linguistically and culturally authentic, for language and
culture are inseparable (Siekmann, Webster, Samson, & Moses, 2017). In terms of
linguistic authenticity, de Reuse (1997) and Hermes et al. (2012) advocate the application
of everyday language (see also Amery & Gale, 2008; Christie, 2017, in the Australian
context). De Reuse (1997), being non-Indigenous, further notes that, while developing a
textbook for Apache, he collected language models from community members instead of
trying to produce any on his own. As for cultural authenticity, Siekmann et al. (2017)
recommend adopting in materials development culturally responsive frameworks that
“reflect and accurately represent ancestral knowledge and worldview” (p. 2; see also
Christie, 2017, complying with traditional learning metaphors in Yolu). On the other
hand, the use of multimedia technology can be useful to facilitate learning by providing
rich language models. Examples include the demonstration of three Irish dialects in the
pedagogical materials reviewed by Hickey and Stenson’s (2016) and that of correct
pronunciation in Yeh’s (2015) Hla’alua learner’s guide sample.
Among various types of pedagogical materials for Indigenous languages, de Reuse
(1997) observes that those integrating the teaching of grammar and other language skills
such as speaking are especially successful in the Native American context. Linked to
Tomlinson’s (2016) principles for SLA materials development, such integration roughly
aligns with Principle 4 that the teaching of grammar should supplement the teaching of
communicative competence where appropriate. Compared to others that either only teach
grammar or avoid grammar, the integrated model matches better with SLA theory at a
quick glance, assumed to have a better capacity of facilitating language learning. However
theoretically promising, to draw the materials of Warner et al. (2018) with de Reuse’s
(1997) observation, the grammar-oriented material is reported to be preferred by learners
of Mutsun to the integrated type. This mismatch of expectations for materials between the
developers and learners marks the importance of investigating the learners’ needs.
3.4 Summary of gaps in the literature
Concluding from the review of English as a Second Language (ESL) and Indigenous
language materials development, there appears to be a potential linkage between the two
traditionally independent academic areas. Particularly, in spite of the fact that most of the
material developers for Indigenous languages of the world do not explicitly consult with
SLA theory, researchers from the two areas both emphasise the significance of learners’
needs and goals, the inextricability of learning language and culture, as well as features
that materials should possess in order to effectively facilitate learning. It is also worth
noting that, similar to the literature of ESL learning materials, the majority of previous
studies on Indigenous language learning materials emerge from instructed learning
settings, such as immersion programs or community/university language classes. On the
other hand, while a number of materials aiming at adult learners are addressed here,
including Adley-SantaMaria (1997), de Reuse (1997) and Warner et al. (2018), existing
materials for Indigenous languages of the world are primarily designed for children as Yeh
(2015) identifies (e.g., Long, 2007, student workbooks for Gumbaynggirr in New South
Wales; see also for Taiwanese Indigenous language materials).
These observations suggest that more studies on self-learning materials for Indigenous
languages targeting adults (e.g., Yeh, 2016) are required, especially given the decreasing
number of speakers in Indigenous communities across the globe.
3.5 Research questions
From Chapters 2 and 3, a gap is identified in the literature of materials development
for adults’ self-learning of Indigenous languages of the world, alongside the lack of
consultation with SLA theory. Particularly in Australia, where many of the Indigenous
communities are losing fluent speakers, there appears to be a necessity of building useful
learner’s guides that cater to learners’ needs and goals and facilitate the (re)learning of
heritage languages and, eventually, language revitalisation. Therefore, this study aims to
evaluate the current state of learner’s guides for Australian Indigenous languages and to
propose potential improvements for the field. To this end, the study will focus on the
following research questions.
RQ1: How are the features of existing learner’s guides for Australian Indigenous
languages meeting users’ learning goals and needs?
RQ2: How can existing frameworks in SLA materials development inform the
development of learner’s guides for Australian Indigenous languages?
RQ3: How can learner’s guides for Australian Indigenous languages be improved?
Chapter 4: Methodology
In order to address the research questions raised in the previous chapter, I applied
two qualitative research approaches: materials evaluation of existing learner’s guides and
interviews with community language workers. The materials evaluation can inform RQ1
in terms of the current state of learner’s guides, as well as RQ2 based on analyses adopting
SLA frameworks, whereas interviews are analysed to address RQ1 in regard to the
learning purposes and needs of learner’s guide users. Note that the target audiences of
learner’s guides may vary depending on language statuses. This study particularly
conducts the investigation from the community users’ perspective and in revitalisation
settings. Findings from both approaches are discussed to answer RQ3 in Chapter 6.
4.1 Materials evaluation
4.1.1 Source of data
A total number of nine learner’s guides for Australian Indigenous languages were
collected and evaluated for the purpose of this study. The materials were accessed from
the libraries of the University of Melbourne, collections of the Resource Network for
Linguistic Diversity (RNLD), and personal collections of one of my supervisors Professor
Rachel Nordlinger. I targeted materials labelled as a learner’s guide or a ‘teach yourself’
guide for adult learners (cf. Long, 2007, for children). Among the materials used in this
study, the publication years range from the late 1970s to early 2010s as listed in Table 1
along with a brief introduction of each language and its speech community. The evaluated
guides present a fair chronological distribution, providing an overview of the current state
of learner’s guides over the past four decades.
Table 1 List of evaluated learner’s guides (in chronological order)
Author(s) Year Page# Language and the community
Teach Yourself Wangkatja: An Introduction to
the Western Desert Language (Cundeelee Dialect)
Vászolyi 1979 211 This variety of the Western Desert Language (Pama–
Nyungan family) is spoken in Cundeelee, located east of
Kalgoorlie and Perth, Western Australia. The latest
census reports a total number of 225 Wangkatja
(Wangkatha) speakers (ABS, 2016).
Evans 1982 77 This Desert Nyungic language (Pama–Nyungan family)
is traditionally spoken in and around Tennant Creek in
the Northern Territory. By the time when the learner’s
guide was published, there were about 400 speakers
(Evans, 1982, p. 2). The number of 321 native speakers
is reported in the latest census (ABS, 2016).
A Learner’s Guide to Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara
Goddard 1993 48 These two regional varieties of the Western Desert
Language (Pama–Nyungan family) are mutually
intelligible, named after the respective term for
‘coming/going’ (Goddard, 1993, p. 2). The language is
traditionally spoken in the northwest of South Australia,
with Pitjantjatjara east of Yankunytjatjara. About 3,125
native Pitjantjatjara speakers and 420 native
Yankunytjatjara speakers are reported in the latest census
(ABS, 2016).
& Granites
spoken in the region to the northwest of Alice Springs
and east of the border of the Northern Territory and
Western Australia. It is one of the largest Australian
Indigenous languages in terms of its current number of
speakers at around 2,304 (ABS, 2016). By the end of last
century, there were estimated at least another 1,000
second-language speakers of Warlpiri (Laughren et al.,
1996, p. 1).
Nordlinger 1998 56 This West Barkly language (Mirndi family) is
traditionally spoken around the areas of Brunette Downs
Station and Anthony Lagoon Station in the Northern
Territory. By the time when the learner’s guide was
written, there were about 10 to 15 fluent speakers
(Nordlinger, 1998, p. 1). The latest census reports a total
number of 61 speaking Wambaya at home (ABS, 2016).
A Learner’s Guide to Kaytetye
Turpin 2000 184 This Arandic language (Pama–Nyungan family) is
traditionally spoken around the region 300 kilometres
north of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. By the
time when the learner’s guide was published, there were
about 250 speakers estimated (Turpin, 2000, p. 1). The
latest census reports a total number of 122 speaking
Kaytetye at home (ABS, 2016).
A Learner’s Guide to Warumungu: Mirlamirlajinjjiki Warumunguku Apparrka
Simpson 2002 198 (See the description of the Warumungu language for
Evans’s guide above)
A Learner’s Guide to Eastern and Central Arrernte: Revised Edition
Green 2005 97 These two dialects of Arrernte (Pama–Nyungan family)
are closely related despite local variation of
pronunciation and vocabulary. They are spoken in and
around Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. The
number of speakers of Eastern and Central Arrernte is
estimated to be about 1,500 to 2,000 (Green, 2005, p. 2);
the latest census only has the record of Eastern Arrernte
with 385 speakers (ABS, 2016).
Kulurdu Marni Ngathaitya! Sounds Good to Me! A Kaurna Learner’s Guide
Amery &
traditionally spoken on the Adelaide Plains in South
Australia, ranging from Crystal Brook and Clare to Cape
Jervis (Amery & Simpson, 2013, p. 3). Kaurna once
ceased to be spoken in the 19th century but started on its
revival in 1990 (Amery, 2018). Now, Kaurna is being
taught in schools at all levels, and hopefully, the first
native Kaurna speakers in this century are emerging
(Amery & Simpson, 2013). The latest census reports a
total number of 53 speaking Kaurna at home (ABS,
4.1.2 Analytical approach
This study follows a coding scheme with eight principles to evaluate learner’s guides
for Australian Indigenous languages, with Tomlinson’s (2016) five principles for
developing language learning materials as the fundamental framework (i.e., Principles 1–5
in Table 2). Since the principles are established with the intention of matching learning
materials better with SLA theory, the application suits the goal of the present study to
contribute SLA research findings to language revitalisation. Note that in Principle 1, the
feature of comprehensibility originally only focuses on the contents and tasks involved in
materials. In this study, this feature is supplemented by the comprehensibility of
metalanguage (see Kane, 1998), responding to field researchers’ concerns about existing
learning materials for Indigenous languages (de Reuse, 1997; Rice, 2006; Stebbins et al.,
2018: Warner et al., 2018).
To further complement Tomlinson’s (2016) principles targeting instructed learning,
the coding scheme includes the two distinctive features that Tomlinson (2010, 2011)
suggests for self-guided learning materials, namely, being open-ended (Principle 6) and
text-driven (Principle 7). The nature of learner’s guides as a medium for uninstructed
(re)learning can thus be more specifically examined. Additionally, considering the cultural
appropriateness of developing learner’s guides on the basis of Indigenous worldviews and
cultural values (Christie, 2017; Siekmann et al., 2017), the coding scheme incorporates the
Douglas Fir Group’s (2016) framework. Specifically, since Tomlinson’s (2010, 2011,
2016) principles represent more of the micro and meso levels of language learning in
social contexts, the macro level of ideological structure is particularly addressed and set as
the last principle (Principle 8).
With the coding scheme, every learner’s guide was closely examined and described.
Examples from the guides for the features were identified and further linked to the
interview data where appropriate.
Principle Feature Operationalisation
1 Rich Is there rich input of language in use?
Whether examples reflect contextualised language;
Number of examples for each structure;
Whether audio input is available
Re-cycled Are there repetitive language models?
Whether a structure occurs only in a single instance
or reoccurs in multiple instances throughout the
learner’s guide;
structure is modelled repetitively in a text
Meaningful Does the content reflect real-world language in use?
Are the given materials related to learners’ life?
Type of content, e.g., general activities, specific
events and/or for specific purposes;
Whether the content is culturally specific and
relevant to the traditional lifestyle;
Whether the sources are from native speakers and/or
the community
Comprehensible Is the content of language in use comprehensible for
Whether examples are enough to demonstrate
Is there substantial use of terminology? Are the
disciplinary terms clearly explained?
referred to;
graphs and audio input) are adopted to enhance
the comprehensibility of jargon;
draws their attention to the more complex content
2 Affectively
amused, excited, sad or sympathetic?
Whether contextualised examples are provided;
Whether culturally relevant materials are provided;
Whether the metalanguage addresses users;
Whether supplementary techniques (e.g., activities
and illustrations) are adopted
Whether the guide is task-based;
Level of difficulty and complexity;
Whether the guide is developed in a staged sequence
Are the tasks challenging? Do they require high-level,
critical and creative thinking?
translation and communicative tasks;
4 Addressing
learners’ attention
given meaning-based text/activity?
Whether and how summary tables and/or block
notes are provided
Number of communicative tasks provided;
Whether explicit instructions are given to practise
with native speakers or other learners
If yes, what are the communicative activities?
6 Open-ended Are there multiple modelling answers for each
practising item?
no answers given
Whether contextualised texts are provided and
designed as the start point of learning
8 Culturally
belief system and cultural values of the speech
grammatical features or topics;
values are acknowledged and referenced
4.1.3 Analytical procedures
Starting with Principle 1, I first identified whether contextualised language was
provided in each guide. If there are only or mostly out-of-context examples in a guide, the
content was examined as to whether it demonstrated common and/or situational usage that
reflected real-world language. Guides with contextualised texts and/or more than four
phrasal or sentential examples for each structure were considered to provide fairly ‘rich’
input (e.g., Amery & Simpson, 2013). When several examples for each structure are
provided and structures are modelled recurringly in texts, the guide was assessed as having
‘re-cycled’ materials (e.g., Vászolyi, 1979). To pass for being ‘meaningful,’ a guide is
expected to include content relevant to users’ life (e.g., Turpin, 2000, referencing both the
traditional and contemporary lifestyles). Learner’s guides, such as Vászolyi’s (1979), are
also regarded as meaningful because they include authentic content made by community
members. The ‘comprehensible’ feature is divided into two subsets, including
comprehensibility of content and that of metalanguage. For the former, when a guide is
developed for beginners or provides examples conveying basic meanings, the guide is
considered comprehensible (e.g., Laughren et al., 1996, based on a tape course for
beginners). As for the latter, I marked a guide comprehensible when disciplinary terms
were replaced with plain English (e.g., Nordlinger, 1998, p. iii, stating imperative as “to
tell someone to do something”) or when terms were used but clearly explained (e.g.,
Simpson, 2002). In addition to metalanguage, I also searched for supplementary
techniques for enhancing comprehensibility, such as graphs or notes. When examining the
guides with Principle 2, for those without much contextualised language, I evaluated them
as having minimal potentiality to arouse emotions and to affectively engage users (e.g.,
Evans, 1982). In comparison, guides containing culturally specific examples may be found
relatable by Indigenous users. If a user does not perform traditional practice anymore, a
sense of nostalgia or homesickness may be aroused (e.g., Green, 2005). On the other hand,
I also considered it affectively engaging where the metalanguage directly addresses users
and draws from their learning experience, and where supplementary techniques such as
illustrations are adopted (e.g., Turpin, 2000, with comics).
Principles 3, 5, and 6 are dependent and were examined consecutively. Firstly, I
identified whether a guide is task-based and if yes, what types of tasks are utilised.
Generally, tasks like listen-and-repeat, fill-in-the-gap, and translation are considered
achievable because language models are provided prior to the tasks, but among the three
types of tasks, only translation requires higher-level thinking because users need to be able
to analyse structure and produce language that is not modelled word-for-word previously.
To translate from English into the target language (e.g., Nordlinger, 1998) is more
challenging than the other way around (e.g., Laughren et al., 1996). Creative thinking,
however, is assessed as absent. The available fill-in-the-gap and translation tasks are only
for the purpose of practising vocabulary and grammar, and their de-contextualised nature
fails to facilitate communicative skills (Carreres & Noriega-Sánchez, 2011; Laufer &
Girsai, 2008). In comparison, I evaluated communicative tasks as the most cognitively
challenging type since it involves more linguistic skills, including vocabulary, grammar,
and interactive skills (e.g., Amery & Simpson, 2013, including role plays and map games;
linked to Principle 5). As for Principle 6, in cases where no tasks are designed (e.g.,
Goddard, 1993) and where tasks require either right or wrong answers, this principle is not
applicable. Where applicable, I also regarded situations where no answers were given for
communicative tasks as open-ended (e.g., Simpson, 2002). I did not, however, consider it
open-ended when no answers were given for translation tasks because there are no
alternative models available other than previously given examples (e.g., Vászolyi, 1979).
The next step is to examine the sequential organisation of a guide (Principle 4) and
particularly, whether the teaching emerges from contextualised language (Principle 7).
The target feature would be a meaning-based text being placed at the start of a section,
modelling target structures, and being closely accompanied with the teaching of structures.
Lastly, to examine whether and how a learner’s guide meets Principle 8, I looked at both
the micro- and macro-level development of a guide. Specifically, at the micro level, I
searched for instances referring to the influence of culture on linguistic features and vice
versa (e.g., Simpson, 2002). Regarding the macro level, Amery & Simpson (2013) well
exemplifies a topical development constructed according to the target cultural values in
social relations, including chapters themed around talking to different interlocutors. For
other guides without prominent reflection of cultural values in the materials development,
I nevertheless evaluated as culturally appropriate those acknowledging the worldview of
the target speech community (e.g., Goddard, 1993).
Full evaluations can be found in Appendix A: Materials Evaluation of Existing
Learner’s Guides. In the next chapter, I discuss these results in more detail.
4.2 Interviews
4.2.1 Participants
A total number of four participants were recruited for this study. They are
Documenting and Revitalising Indigenous Language (DRIL) trainers at the Resource
Network for Linguistic Diversity (RNLD). One of the trainers is a Yorta Yorta woman,
and the others are non-Aboriginal, including a male and two female participants. All the
participants have field and/or academic linguistics training backgrounds, and one of them
also hold a degree in applied linguistics. Except for one participant having worked as an
ESL teacher, the others’ language relevant work experiences are with Indigenous
communities and languages.
communities across Australia. Their mission is to support linguistic diversity and
sustainability both nationwide and worldwide (Penfield & Tucker, 2011) by running DRIL
workshops with communities or with individuals to deliver training and transmit language
and linguistic skills required for maintaining and/or revitalising languages (Florey, 2018;
Gessner, Florey, Slaughter, & Hinton, 2018). As a former volunteer with RNLD, I learned
about an ongoing project the trainers have been working on, that is, to create a learner’s
guide template for Pama–Nyungan languages. With their experiences with communities
and learner’s guides in particular, the trainers are suitable candidates to respond to the
research questions. On the other hand, RNLD, as a hub connecting Indigenous
communities and language centres (Gessner et al., 2018) unaffiliated with any academic
institution, can be considered an appropriate “meeting point for academic linguists and
Indigenous communities” (Singer, 2018, p. 268). Being a safe place to address Indigenous
language materials, RNLD is further justified to be the site for participant recruitment.
4.2.2 Instruments
Semi-structured interviews were conducted based on sixteen pre-set questions (see
Appendix B: Interview Protocol). The interview questions focused on three main aspects:
the interviewees’ own experience using learner’s guides, their observation of Indigenous
communities’ or individuals’ experiences with learner’s guides, and their insights as
template developers. To collect data, the built-in application Voice Memos on iPhone XR
was utilised to audio-record the interviews. For data analysis, the recordings were
converted from M4A into WAV files with the audio editor software Audacity® 2.2.2
(2018). The annotation software ELAN 5.6-FX (2019) was later employed to transcribe
the recorded interviews.
4.2.3 Data collection procedures
An individual interview was conducted with each participant, and each lasted for
between forty minutes and one hour. To cater to the participants’ convenience and
preferences, two of the interviews took place in the RNLD offices, one in a quiet library
project room at the University of Melbourne, and one via online video call. Before the
interviews, the participants had received and approved the interview questions along with
a plain language statement explaining the study and details about participation. A consent
form was also signed by each participant prior to the individual interview. The interviews
were fully transcribed afterwards, and the contents were reviewed and approved by the
participants (see for Electronic Appendix: Interview Transcripts).
4.2.4 Analytical approach
A simple text analysis approach was adopted, and the coding of the interview data
was based on seven major themes, including:
• Current position of learner’s guides, i.e., how they are perceived and used by
community language workers;
• Community members’ learning needs;
• Suggestions of the reference group of the RNLD template;
• Suggestions of the interviewees based on their experiences working with
communities and notes for non-Indigenous developers
4.2.5 Ethical considerations
Potential risks of this study are minimal, and ethics approval was obtained from the
Faculty of Arts HEAG Human Ethics Advisory Group of the University of Melbourne
prior to the start of data collection (ethics ID number: 1953988).
Chapter 5: Results
In this chapter, the findings of the interviews with community linguists and of the
materials evaluation are presented in two consecutive sections.
5.1 Materials evaluation
5.1.1 Common characteristics of the evaluated learner’s guides
From the data analysis, the nine learner’s guides are found to share seven major
characteristics. First, they are generally developed in a grammar-oriented structure where
the chapters are organised according to grammatical features. An exception is Amery and
Simpson’s (2013) Kaurna guide, where they separate theme-based materials from the
grammatical description. The grammar-oriented characteristic is not described in the
coding scheme but, from my observation, is very different from ESL pedagogical
Second, they are considered comprehensible when examined with Principle 1 in
terms of content. Specifically, all of the learner’s guides are designed for beginners and
positioned as a tool to equip learners with basic abilities to advance their learning beyond
the guides. The guides therefore only introduce simple grammatical structures and
recommend further readings such as descriptive grammars. In cases where slightly more
complex structures are covered, they are touched on either towards the later parts of a
guide or intermittently as side notes. An example is Turpin’s (2000) Kaytetye guide,
where she introduces basic demonstratives first in Lesson 2 and then advanced
demonstratives later in Lesson 6. As for the other aspect of comprehensibility,
metalanguage, although some of the guides may be more challenging to comprehend than
the others, every developer of the evaluated learner’s guides evidently makes efforts to
explain linguistic concepts in plain English and draws from users’ metalinguistic
knowledge of English. Many of the developers note in their books that they try to avoid
using jargon in order to make the materials accessible for self-guided learners without
linguistics training. In reality, some developers adopt jargon substantially and with
explanation, some mainly use disciplinary terms as section headings, and some largely
reduce the use of such terms and replace them with a plain definition. Distinctive
examples to address the comprehensibility of metalanguage are Simpson (2002) and
Amery and Simpson (2013), who particularly set out a separate section to define
terminology in detail. The underlying rationale, according to Amery and Simpson (2013),
is that understanding linguistic terminology is useful when learners are interested and
perhaps more advanced, but terminology should not be a primary concern of learners.
The third shared characteristic comes from the identical approach of affectively
engaging users (Principle 2) by directly addressing them as ‘you,’ navigating them through
the learning process, and where necessary, directing their attention to more difficult parts.
Encouraging language is commonly utilised, for example, to tell users not to worry about
not being able to learn something quickly. In Nordlinger’s (1998) Wambaya guide, she
especially draws from her own experience in learning the language, as in, “If you’re not
used to it, it is sometimes difficult to hear the difference between the d, n and l (well, it is
for me anyway!)” (p. 7). This kind of metalanguage can be a good technique to reduce the
possible off-putting effect when users encounter obstacles during the learning process.
Fourth, the developers of the evaluated guides all emphasise in one way or another
the importance of practising communicative skills with native speakers and/or fellow
learners. This characteristic aligns with the emphasis of Principle 5 on communicative
competence. However, whether the learner’s guides do provide relevant activities, as
Principle 5 suggests, to facilitate this purpose is presented in the next section.
The fifth shared characteristic is that the developers are also evidently aware of and
acknowledge the inextricability of language and culture and the significance of showing
respect to the worldview of the community where the target language belongs. This can
link to Principle 8 and again, the realisation of this ideology varies across the learner’s
guides, for which I provide more detailed findings in the next section.
As for the sixth characteristic, the contents of the nine learner’s guides are authentic
in the sense that they are based on previous documentation by field linguists, and most of
them are developed with the assistance of community members. For example, Vászolyi’s
(1979) Wangkatja guide comes with four audio cassettes made with two native Wangkatja
speakers (p. 18). The recordings include two narratives of them recounting incidents
interacting with some non-Indigenous people at Cundeelee Mission (pp. 180–186). Such
materials related to the community members’ life experiences can be considered to fulfil
the ‘meaningful’ feature of Principle1. It is also worth noting that most of the evaluated
learner’s guides (six out of nine) have such accompanying audio recordings, which
provides various degrees of ‘rich’ input of authentic language models.
Apart from the six positive characteristics, a major shared drawback of the nine
learner’s guides is that, when examined with Principle 6, they generally lack open-ended
answers to the given tasks (cf. that no answers given to communicative activities is
considered open-ended; see Section 4.1.3). This characteristic mainly results from the fact
that many of the available tasks in the guides require either right or wrong answers, such
as fill-in-the-gap activities. Translation tasks are also commonly seen, but they are
provided either with fixed answers or no answers at all.
5.1.2 Observed tendency towards alignment with SLA frameworks
From the examination of the differences among the learner’s guides, there is an
overall tendency that the more recent guides match better with the principles encompassed
in the coding scheme, including characteristics of multimedia techniques to enhance
comprehensibility, of meaning-based texts, of communicative tasks, and of cultural
relevance and appropriateness. To start with, in addition to the aforementioned techniques
of addressing comprehensibility (Principle 1), some of the recent guides further employ
graphs particularly to make the teaching of sound systems more understandable, including
those of Turpin (2000), Green (2005), and Amery and Simpson (2013). Specifically, with
graphs of the vocal tract demonstrating places and manners of articulation, users are likely
to have a better grasp of the phonetic and phonological terminology than with the analogy
drawn from English pronunciation.
Second, by applying Principle 1 as well, meaning-based texts are more frequently
found in the recent guides. Specifically, only two of the five guides published before 2000
provide a fair amount of such materials (i.e., Vászolyi, 1979; Laughren et al., 1996), as
opposed to all of the four learner’s guides published in the recent two decades (i.e.,
Turpin, 2000; Simpson, 2002; Green, 2005; Amery & Simpson, 2013). Additionally,
‘richer’ input indicates more ‘re-cycled’ language models available, such as the song in
Green’s (2005) repetitively modelling “Where are you from?” (pp. 92–93). These
materials are also closely related to the ‘affectively engaging’ feature of Principle 2;
Turpin’s (2000) comic illustrations are a good example making the learning fun and
amusing. The most common types of meaning-based texts are dialogues and lists of useful
phrases for various scenarios whereas fewer guides provide narratives. Among the
available texts, illustrations and song lyrics are the rarest, with the former type only
abundantly provided in Turpin’s (2000) and Amery and Simpson’s (2013) and the latter
minimally in Turpin’s (2000) and Green’s (2005).
Note that, among these guides with meaning-based texts, Turpin’s (2000) and
Amery and Simpson’s (2013) are especially text-driven materials, meeting Principle 7,
while in three of the rest, the texts are rather attached at the back of a lesson or the entire
guide than being the start point of learning (cf. the Warlpiri guide of Laughren et al.
(1996) is partially text-driven; see Appendix A). Further linked to Principle 4, only
Turpin’s (2000) Kaytetye guide is identified as meeting the principle. Specifically, each
lesson of the guide starts with a comic illustration and an accompanying audio-recorded
dialogue, followed by explanations on the modelled structure. Block notes and summary
tables are inserted intermittently where necessary to address learners’ attention to more
explicit teaching of form. In comparison, although Amery and Simpson’s (2013) Kaurna
guide is also largely driven by meaning-based texts and activities, the guide is divided into
two parts as described in the previous section. In this organisation, there is only the
process of addressing learners’ attention to form ‘after’ focusing on meaning, but the
‘whilst’ process is absent.
As for the third characteristic, communicative tasks are only designed in three of the
nine guides, including Nordlinger’s (1998), Simpson’s (2002), and Amery and Simpson’s
(2013); only one communicative task is spotted in Vászolyi’s (1979). The number of
communicative tasks appears to increase in the newer guides, showing a tendency towards
better alignment with Principle 5, which suggests plentiful opportunities for
communication. The increasing utilisation of communicative tasks also indicates that the
more recent guides match better with Principle 3 since communicative tasks require more
of high-level and creative thinking. In comparison, in the other guides with tasks available,
the more common type of task is translation of de-contextualised phrases, merely able to
reinforce vocabulary and grammatical knowledge (see Section 4.1.3).
Regarding the fourth characteristic, cultural relevance and appropriateness, although
the developers usually introduce the cultural values shared by the target speech
community at the beginning of their guide, plentiful reference to the traditional cultures in
the content is not commonly found in the earlier guides. For example, in Evans’ (1982)
and Goddard’s (1993), only a few instances referring to regional animals and cultural
items are in place. On the other hand, reference to the contemporary lifestyle is
increasingly evident in the newer ones as well. For example, Simpson (2002) includes
some examples regarding schools and shops whereas Amery and Simpson (2013) talk
about modern housing and technology. These observations indicate that the ‘meaningful’
feature of Principle 1 is better fulfilled in the newer guides where the contents relate with
users’ life experiences more closely. Among all, only the most recent guide, Amery and
Simpson’s (2013), profoundly reflects the cultural values in its overall construction and
meets the essence of Principle 8 by organising the guide according to topics such as
talking to the Elders versus to friends.
5.2 Interviews
From the interviewees’ firsthand community experiences, they observed varying
goals and needs with respect to language learning across communities and individuals,
depending on a range of factors from the language status of a community to the preferred
learning style of an individual. Despite the possible differences, the core purpose is for
self-empowering and identity by means of language learning, including achieving
communicative competence, learning about cultural knowledge, and acquiring accurate
pronunciation. To fulfil these goals, an essential need is to have access to comprehensible
learning materials.
The identified purposes and needs are found throughout the four interviews. When
the interviewees were asked about pertinent observations, one of the first things coming to
mind was that, generally speaking,
I think really, they want to just, um a lot of the time, you know, be able to have a
conversation, and- and so something that tells them how to have basic conversations
and- and build up from those conversations [is what communities essentially need].
(Parncutt4, lines 088–091, Interview 4)
The purpose of (re)learning one’s heritage language is usually not just limited to language
ability but is also about retrieving the “history and cultural knowledge” (Joachim, line 171,
Interview 3) embedded in the language. As the interviewees remarked, language and
culture are “so intertwined” (Parncutt, line 226, Interview 4) that they cannot be separated
when one tries to (re)learn language. A major goal is to find “[the] piece of the puzzle that
is missing” (Joachim, line 169, Interview 3), and ultimately, (re)learning the language is
about the completing of an individual’s or a community’s collective identity. Given the
significance of culture, learners usually wish to have cultural materials provided in
language resources. For example, Murphy recounted from an event she hosted on the topic
of learner’s guides,
somebody said to some Aboriginal people, you know, ‘What do you wish the
linguists would’ve done?’ And she said, ‘I wish they put songs in there.’ (lines 152–
153, Interview 1)
Yet, not every community or individual would feel comfortable about placing such
materials in a publication, depending on the community circumstances. As Joachim notes,
future learner’s guide developers should be aware that
There’s this fear of how it’s gonna be used and who’s gonna be using it, and you
know all of that kind of stuff. (lines 319–320, Interview 3)
4 Given the specificity of the participant recruitment, the participants gave consents to the identification of their identities; pseudonyms are thus not applied. They have also approved the direct quotes drawn from the interviews.
In addition to traditional culture, the interviewees noticed that some communities would
like to be able to talk about contemporary life, including “football and things around the
house and doing the laundry” and other topics as such that are covered in Amery and
Simpson’s (2013) Kaurna guide (Tanner, lines 856–858, Interview 2).
Regarding the learning of language per se, it was a consensus among the
interviewees that communities need accessible learning materials that start off simple
without excessive grammatical complexities and incomprehensible terminology. As a core
aspect of language, “pronunciation . . . for a lot of people, it’s a big thing” (Parncutt, line
96, Interview 4). For instance, Joachim pointed out that she aimed to pronounce the
sounds of her language Yorta Yorta as accurately as possible and to reduce the influence
of English pronunciation (lines 423–426, Interview 3). On the other hand, in terms of
grammar, community learners oftentimes want to have instructions on “what to do [and]
how to communicate,” as well as clear explanations on everything presented in a learner’s
guide (Murphy, lines 283–294, Interview 1). In order to learn how to structure and
produce sentences, Murphy observed that, in an early stage of learning,
people would really like examples of, you know, natural conversation and phrases
and so on, so that you can very early on master some sentence or some
conversational skill, without having to first read the whole noun’s chapter and then
the whole verb’s chapter so that you can put together a whole sentence. (lines 128–
133, Interview 1)
This observation reveals a certain mismatch between learners’ needs and the current state
of learner’s guides pointed out by Murphy, which is reported in detail in the following
section. Nevertheless, it is suggested by some of the interviewees that after the initial
effort of (re)learning a language, people would need more learning of grammar, as in
Parncutt’s experience working with an Aboriginal man, “he’s finding by learning more of
the grammatical stuff, then he can say more” (lines 628–629, Interview 4). It is usually
more so in a revitalisation situation where no fluent speakers are around that people need
grammatical knowledge “to know how they put those sentences together” (Murphy, line
600, Interview 1).
5.2.2 Issues with existing learner’s guides for users
Based on the interviewees’ experiences, two major issues with learner’s guides
emerge regarding comprehensibility and community involvement. Before introducing the
findings on the identified issues, I first noticed substantial variations among the learner’s
guides that the interviewees have seen and used. For instance,
Some of them are very um I guess they are very basic. They don’t go into a lot of
detail about the phonology or um explain in detail how the grammar works. Um it
might just have some example sentences, not even clear whether the- is the word
order flexible or not . . . and then on the other end of the scale, you got the ones that
are closer to academic grammars . . . I think . . . they’re much richer sources for
learners, but they’re also more intimidating and- and less transparent. (Tanner, lines
241–254, Interview 2)
There are also “ones that have lots of examples,” which “really helps people . . .
understand how those grammatical aspects work” (Tanner, lines 414–419, Interview 2),
and “some different ones that use conversation as the . . . basis, [such as] the Kaytetye one
[by Turpin (2000)] . . . and then bring words out of that” (Parncutt, lines 370–374,
Interview 4). Despite varying types, overall, “[learner’s guides] seem to be organised
around linguistic features or parts of speech rather than a more pedagogical approach”
(Murphy, lines 89–91, Interview 1). This grammar-oriented characteristic is found
distinctive from more commonly seen language learning materials by interviewees with
experiences in learning and/or teaching a major language (e.g., Russian ‘teach yourself’
guides, Tanner, Interview 2). According to Tanner, the foundational difference between
Australian language learner’s guides and materials for major languages
could be that mostly [learner’s guides are] written by linguists . . . whereas . . . if a
Spanish language guide is being written, that might be written by a native speaker of
Spanish who has a teaching background. (lines 132–139, Interview 2)
The disciplinary training of the developers of Australian learner’s guides, from Tanner’s
and Murphy’s observations, is key to the distinct position of the materials since
“[linguists] know how to analyse [language]” (Tanner, lines 521–522, Interview 2), but
“there’s a less specialty in language acquisition and language teaching” (Murphy, lines
506–507, Interview 1).
The backgrounds of material developers, identified as an influential factor in the
issue of comprehensibility, is related to the use of jargon in learner’s guides. According to
the interviewees, the incomprehensibility of jargon is a recurring obstacle in community
users’ learning, which can be “disempowering,” “insulting,” “frustrating,” “confusing,”
“intimidating” and “daunting” (adjectives occurring in Interviews 1, 2, and 4) for people
without linguistics training. To address this issue, the interviewees noticed that some guide
developers, as well as themselves when working on the learner’s guide template, do make
efforts to explain linguistic concepts in plain English. Yet, plain language can lead to
another problem, especially when clear explanation usually also “means [that] you have to
use a lot more words” (Murphy, line 721, Interview 1). For those who wish to (re)learn
their language, it is likely to end up that
people just look at all these texts, and . . . it’s such a put-off like uh so long . . .
something so text-heavy is- is just gonna be so daunting [as well]. (Parncutt, lines
472 –745, Interview 4)
Consequently, at DRIL workshops where trainers help communit